A tribute to Darrell Dean Ensor 1952-2007
News of his death struck hard in the Heartland last month. It happened on a day of celebrations…a day when words of freedom rode every breeze. Old Glory rippled proudly in the wind…Patriots paraded on Main Streets across America.
Darrell Ensor was all about that.
In fact, if he’d been born in the 1700’s, Darrell might have been one of our Founding Fathers. The Declaration of Independence may have been inscribed with his name… And the words:“Give me liberty, or give me death…!” could well have been coined by Darrell, himself.
But Darrell wasn’t born in that era. He fought for our freedom in different ways. He didn’t like bureaucracy. He didn’t like the way the Feds handle things nowadays, but he was a loyal countryman…a true patriot.
He died on the 4th of July.
Darrell was a big man, bigger than life: a mover and a shaker, a transporter of homes and barns and bridges and windmills. If the task was difficult, or well-nigh impossible, you called on Darrell; he would find a way. He invented things when necessary—ingenious devices full of levers and cogs. He tackled mammoth projects and engineered mechanical wonders.
Darrell was a clever, funny man—an outspoken Christian. He did countless acts of kindness, rescuing country folk from farm mishaps, and townsfolk from their citified debacles. He gave advice even when you wished he didn’t, and remained a voice of reason throughout long friendships
He was a character, in the very best sense of the word.
When Darrell’s plane plummeted to the ground on Wednesday morning, it sent shock waves rippling to the furthest reaches of the countryside…from the Heartland’s four corners’ region to Amish country beyond the river. Shock turned to grief, then dismay, and eventually self-pity. What would we do now? Who would intervene for us when life gets troublesome? And who would make us laugh when we felt like crying?
News of his death rode the breeze from farm to farm, from town to town. Darrell Ensor was dead…? No, it couldn’t be true!
On the morning of July 5th, I went to the area of the plane crash near Johnson, Nebraska. I wandered about feeling dazed. The FAA inspectors had just left, leaving a long trampled trail through the cornfield where the plane went down…A narrow corridor leading to tragedy and heartbreak. I could see the tail fin of the Piper sticking up out of the cornstalks, and I felt drawn down that sad trail to the sacred spot where Darrell’s life had ended.
I didn’t intend to get so close, but suddenly there it was, rising up before me: a broken plane, half-hidden in the forest of waving corn. Startled, I tripped on a cornstalk and sprawled headlong in the dirt. I lay there dazed in the cornfield jungle, staring at the burned remains of the plane.
Then I jumped to my feet. Dear Lord…! I had to get out of here.
But tears blinded my eyes and it was hard to see. It seemed like there was something I should say. “Um…” I said. “Goodbye, Darrell…Thanks for everything you’ve done…and for moving my house…and all that you did for my dad and everyone else…” I was rambling, but it didn’t seem inappropriate. Darrell would’ve understood.
I stared into the skies above. They were a brilliant blue just like they were when Darrell had buzzed over his farmstead a final time the day before. His family had gathered there for 4th of July festivities. They’d heard the plane as it dipped low overhead.
But no one knew he was saying goodbye—least of all Darrell, himself.
The plane had swooped, then began its final climb toward Johnson, the community Darrell had loved for so many years. Beyond the town, a patchwork of farms and fields stretched toward the horizon: a huge quilt stitched with rail fences and country lanes…with neighborly kindness and good will.
It was the last view of earth that Darrell saw that day.
Then came the sound that marked the end of Darrell’s flight and his life. A sudden bang in the skies on the 4th of July…a sound that heralded the passage of a darn good pilot into the blue beyond. A neighboring farmer witnessed the demise of the Piper plane just a mile from Darrell’s home. He saw the wing break off and the plane make its downward dive less than a half-mile from the heart of town. Darrel had been checking out his new plane when it crashed. It had been scheduled for a safety inspection the very next day. In fact, that’s where Darrell was headed when the plane went down.
Oh, the irony of it all…the tragic loss of a good life!
I stood amid the cornrows, staring at the wing of the Piper lodged in a distant cottonwood tree. I listened to the whisper of the katydids, and the sad voice of a mourning dove. I stared at the vacant patch of sky where Darrell’s plane had broken apart. The stretch of blue looked just like any other, yet it held in its expanse the last words and prayers of a doomed pilot.
I wondered what he’d thought, and what he’d said.
My mind wandered back to that day, years ago, when Darrell had taken us for a plane ride over this very countryside. It seemed like eons ago, now, but I remember how the plane had been buffeted about in the wind like a small boat on rough seas. Fear had overwhelmed me as I teetered between heaven and earth in that wisp of an aircraft.
But Darrell had just grinned and hollered encouragement at me, waving toward the town far below…the tiny buildings lined up in rows. The teensy people wandering in and out of their doll houses, driving their toy cars to their minuscule destinations…A picturesque world in miniature. The scene made me forget my fears of flying and I stared with fascination at the bird’s eye view of earth.
It was a scene that Darrell had loved, a view from God’s perspective. That’s why Darrell enjoyed flying so much. Up there, he felt closer to his Creator. He got to soar with the hawks and eagles. He got to mingle with unseen angels.
I thought about that as I stood staring up at the patch of blue sky where Darrell’s plane had fallen apart. At that point, he’d only had moments to live and he knew it. In those seconds, his life had surely flashed before his eyes….A good life, full of good people—a host of loving friends and family. Likely, he’d bid us all farewell, shouting words of encouragement like he’d always done. He was probably issuing final instructions and giving us advice with his last breath—telling us not to fret—that he’d died doing what he loved.
That was Darrell…!
I sighed and turned to go, taking one last look at the crumpled plane and the Piper’s wing in the cottonwood . High in the sky above, a hawk circled on a thermal breeze, soaring higher and higher till it was barely visible in the azure haze. Then abruptly, it was gone and there was nothing left but a shimmering blue that stretched on forever.
Brushing back tears, I left the crash site, retreating down that long corridor of waving corn toward the world of the Here-and-Now. Life would go on. It always does….But life just wouldn’t be the same without that man from Johnson.
Darrell Dean Ensor. What a Christian and an adventurer and a patriot. He died as he had lived…full of faith, with the hope of a better tomorrow. He’d ascended to the clouds and soared with the eagles. He went out with a bang on the 4th of July.
And we will never forget him…we never will.